Commentary: Medical cannabis is not some demon drug

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) "Every part of the plant is used, the kief, shake and the stems, which are composted and used for fertilizer. "Eventually we would like to make paper" with the stems, said Joel Stanley, October 25, 2014. For cancer patients seeking relief from chemotherapy and parents of children with debilitating seizure disorders, the medical marijuana cultivators Joel, Jesse, Jonathan, Jordan, Jared and Josh Stanley of Colorado Springs and their non-profit Realm of Caring Foundation is their only option.

Medical cannabis is not some demon drug. It’s just one more tool in the toolbox of medical options for various ailments. Who among us, faced with chronic pain, PTSD, severe anxiety, MS, autism, seizures and more would not want the opportunity to at least try medical cannabis? As a medicine it might not work for everyone. But everyone should have the choice to try it and if it works, to use it without fear of legal or employment consequences.

I personally collected more than 4,000 signatures for the initiative and heard hundreds of stories about medical cannabis. Some were heartbreaking, some uplifting. A few people even claimed it “cured cancer.” I’m skeptical, but for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, cannabis can relieve pain, increase appetite, lower anxiety, decrease nausea, improve sleep and contribute to a more positive outlook. All are important to surviving cancer.

I reject the idea that marijuana is a gateway drug for youth. Young marijuana users who go on to hard drugs do so because of social pressures, domestic conflicts and/or personality traits that have nothing to do with cannabis per se. They are under incredible pressures: developing sexuality, peer pressure, tensions at home and uncertainty about life ahead, all without the life experience or mental maturity to make smart, informed judgments. For some, drugs can be the response to those pressures. Most young people, including those who continue to use cannabis in adulthood, get through this just fine and go on to become normal productive members of society.

I also reject the argument that medical marijuana opens the door to recreational marijuana. NEWSFLASH! Recreational marijuana is firmly established in Utah and has been for a long time. The real crime with recreational marijuana is locking people up for using it. It takes away their jobs, gives them criminal records and breaks up families. Society loses their tax revenue, and incarceration puts their families at risk of dependency on social welfare. It costs taxpayers money to investigate, arrest, prosecute and incarcerate them. Those are the real crimes.

If recreational marijuana is eventually legalized in Utah, I hope it is some years from now. States with legalized recreational marijuana are not coming apart at the seams as some claim, but it is a bit of the Wild West out there. Those states will experience some serious teething problems. It will take several years to identify and correct unforeseen social, legal and technical problems with the new laws. Eventually industry weaklings and bad actors will be weeded out, and the industry will stabilize. Let’s hold off in Utah so we can learn from other states’ mistakes. Then we can make an informed decision about recreational cannabis, yes or no.

Finally, regardless of how you feel about the social question of marijuana, consider the financial benefits: Employment (growing, processing, regulating, distributing, selling) and its associated wages and tax revenues. Some will argue the negative social costs will outweigh the positive financial impacts. To them I say, “Show me the proof.”

Colorado earned $200 million in tax income on $1.3 billion in marijuana revenues in 2016. Maybe Utah can apply similar tax windfalls to public education to reduce class sizes and attract and retain teachers by increasing their pay. Heck, let’s apply some of that money to drug education, prevention and treatment. That’s something I think we can all get behind.

When it comes to medical marijuana, I come down on the side of choice and family. Utah citizens – not the state! – should be allowed to choose what’s best for our families’ health. I proudly support the 2018 Utah Medical Cannabis ballot initiative. Vote yes on Proposition 2.

Scott Bell

Scott Bell, West Jordan, collected more than 10,000 signatures for the various ballot initiatives and supports the Prop 2 (medical cannabis), Prop 3 (Medicaid expansion) and Prop 4 (anti-gerrymandering) ballot initiatives. He is running for Utah House District 47 in West Jordan.